To mark World Down Syndrome Day on March 21st, intellectual disability charity L’Arche partnered with award-winning animation studio Tonic DNA and Canadian musician Jordan Hart to co-produce a beautiful film, entitled Freebird, that challenged the misconceptions surrounding Down Syndrome.
We follow the coming-of-age story of a boy with Down syndrome who learns to navigate the world with a loving mother, an absent father, a classroom bully and a life-long crush. We witness 45 years of life flash by in just a few short minutes. Freebird is a combination of stunning animation and soulful storytelling communicating the quintessentially human story at the heart of this campaign.
Co-directors Joe Bluhm and Michael McDonald directed this animated short alongside Nick Herd, LGBTQ+ activist, and host of Battle of the Fans (who himself has Down syndrome) as Creative Director.
Michael McDonald explains that the narrative was inspired by hundreds of oral histories he gathered from people with Down syndrome around the world. The goal was to highlight the life moments so familiar to those in the Down Syndrome world, but almost never depicted on screen. A question came out immediately: “Why does the world assume that a disabled life is not profoundly beautiful?” L’Arche wanted a style that could ask that same question to the world of animation. Which is how they contacted Tonic DNA, with Joe Bluhm as co-director to help share their message.
Joe Bluhm thought it was best to do something that felt familiar and loose enough to evoke an idea that a story is still yet to be written for many of the people who this narrative speaks to. The challenge was to find a style that would preserve the emotional and character-driven aspect of the story, which is why they chose to create this animation in the 2D traditional way, with light, slightly vintage style. A team of approximately 10 people at Tonic DNA worked on this short film from the producers, director and artists.
Nick Herd helped carry the directorial burden throughout the production. His thoughtful attention and creative diligence helped safeguard both teams from replicating the mainstream ignorance and misrepresentation they hoped the animation had overcome. Every single person on both teams felt connected to this project, it was a very emotional process to work on a story with so much meaning behind it. And thanks to Nick, they created a more honest and authentic animated short.
After making the festival rounds throughout the world, our 2D Animated Short Film entitled Freebird earned a qualifying spot for this year's Academy Awards© when it won first prize at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, earlier this Summer. The shortlist for the awards will be announced on December 21st and the nominees announced on February 8, 2022 before the award´s ceremony in March 2022. Stay tuned!
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Joe Bluhm & Michael McDonald
MUSIC "FREEDOM" BY: Jordan Hart
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Nicholas Herd
TONIC DNA EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Stefanie Bitton
TONIC DNA PRODUCERS: Jennifer Nadeau & Mariana Durán
L’ARCHE CANADA EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Louis Pilotte & Jordan Hart
L’ARCHE CANADA PRODUCER: Michael McDonald
ILLUSTRATOR: David Rémy Goldstyn
CHARACTER DESIGN: Joe Bluhm & Michael Renaud
2D ANIMATION: Guillaume Blackburn, Malcolm Sutherland & Celia Bullwinkel
COMPOSITOR: Myriam Elda Arsenault
Category: Short Films and Music Videos
Genre: Animation, Storytelling